Monday, January 08, 2007

In defense of John McCain

John McCain has been pilloried in many circles, both left and right, for awhile now. Mainly because he's such a big threat. To the right, he has some unacceptable views and thus must be torn down in order to pave the way for a "real" conservative(one who backed Bush 100% presumably). To the left, he's the biggest obstacle to a Democratic victory in 2008, so must be torn down.

The problem for McCain is that he's stupidly giving them ammunition. He's become a bit of a panderbear over the last year, trying to cozy up to the social right and Bush supporters, figuring that the nomination is the hardest battle he'll fight. Then he can just coast to victory in the general election.

Back in 2005, I would have said he was right. He could afford to lose a little bit of the maverick luster because his lead over Democrats in trial heats was just so huge. If he wins all the swing states plus a few blue states, or if he just wins the swing states, he's still President. But if he lost the nomination, he'd either be finished or have to attempt a third-party run(although a McCain-Lieberman 2008 Unity Ticket would be compelling).

But now, he's seeing his approval ratings take some hits and the latest polls show him trailing Edwards and with only a thin lead over Clinton and Obama. All of this effort hasn't helped him in the Republican polls, as he's now consistently trailing Giuliani.

So we agree he's pandering too much. But now it's time for the defense, because there are just way too many attacks on McCain that are completely unjustified.

Let's start with who McCain is: he's a conservative, one of the most conservative members of Congress. Sure, he has a few heretical views on issues like campaign finance reform and immigration, but on the issues that have traditionally mattered most to Republicans, he's a solid conservative. In the eight years of the Reagan administration, McCain opposed him only once: on Lebanon. It wasn't until the 90s that he got a maverick reputation.

Now to the pandering again: McCain has pandered on some issues, no question. But on the issues that are most important to him, he simply won't give ground: Iraq. Campaign Finance reform. Spending. He still opposes ethanol subsidies, something that almost no Presidential candidate dares to do in the age of the Iowa caucuses opening the nominating season. He's doing what a lot of politicians, and even regular joes do: backing off on issues that aren't that important to him and standing firm on the things he thinks are truly important.

Then there's the "Bush hug", something the left just loves to hit McCain on. Look, McCain had to back his party's nominee. Democrats certainly didn't believe that Democrats who backed Lieberman instead of the Democratic nominee were courageous. They thought they were traitorous! If you're in a party, you back the nominee.

Advice to McCain: Just be who you are. Be the McCain of 2000. There's no well-funded Bush in this race. You've got the most money, the most name recognition. You will win the nomination if you just be yourself, and you will absolutely smoke the Democratic nominee in the general election. Continue on the path you're on, and you may be just another old Republican up against a possibly young and vigorous Democratic nominee. You'll be Nixon to Edwards' or Obama's Kennedy. That's not a reflection of your character, Mr. McCain, you are certainly no Nixon. But in order to get elected when you're 72, you have to be special. Right now you're emulating Bob Dole on the campaign trail.